Friday, July 19, 2013

Keep Your Mask On AKA Sidekicked by John David Anderson

"You can only hide who you are for so long."

Anderson, John. SidekickedWalden Pond Press (HarperCollinsChildren), 2013. 373p. $16.99. 978-0-06-213316-8.
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Genre: Science Fiction (superheroes, sidekicks, gadget belts)

Cover Appeal: Very Clark-Kent/Superman! Will appeal to 6th and and early 7th graders for sure. May disguise the book's serious undertones.

Immediately After
"There's something that happens when you discover the truth about someone. I know a little about this. The truth changes everything." Sydney, Alias

Right Before
Everybody wears a mask. The mom mask. The good child (hopefully not a) mask. The put-together human bean mask.

Andrew Macon Bean, 13, wears one professionally. Sort of. He's in the Highview Environmental Revitalization Organization (H.E.R.O.) group at school were 3 times a week for a double period he gets to learn how to be a sidekick to one of Justica's Supers!

MWF, Andrew and his five friends (well, Gavin is technically his nemesis for Jenna's affections, but still) use the watchman's, Mr. Masters, special minute freezing watch and go to the basement to practice their craft. All the while waiting to be "combat ready" so they can go and help their assigned Supers.

Except Andrew. The Titan has disappeared and left him hanging. Literally. Over a pool of acid. If his Super doesn't think he's worth saving, Andrew wonders if he is.

"When you're a teenager, everybody is waiting for you to be something or somebody else--" (28)

I loved the sense of humor Drew brought to everything. He deals with the real struggles of relationships and school with a touch of sarcastic wit. He questions everything and does not give up. Even when everybody and everything points to that very course of action. He suffers setbacks but he has HERO to look forward to. The one place he feels totally like himself. He doesn't have to hide, in fact, he's encouraged to use his gifts to the best of his ability.

Until he's not.

An old super-villian comes back from the dead and breaks the minions out of jail. They don't just want to rob places and gather cool death rays, they want to find and kill all the Supers and their sidekicks. But, the sidekicks are requested to stand down. So what was all the training for? What else is going on?

Sometime After
Both storylines were vital to getting through the book - Drew's struggle to fit in and the Supers struggle to stay alive. But, for me, the draw was definitely how Drew is learning to live with who he is. To accept his gifts and his limitations. He has to learn to rely on himself as well as trust others. He's been let down many times. But he gets back up because he has the Code to help him through. 

The Code is also used to justify some questionable activities - both Drew's and others. Anderson successfully places that battle in the midst of everything that happens in this book. Who interprets the rules and how closely are we bound by those interpretations?

On a more playful note, I totally loved the sly Chapter titles - Remember the Titan is all about Drew's Super, The Titan - and how so many bad things happen on a Tuesday!

"That's my approach to most of life most of the time: ignore it." (12)

"He looks like the kind of person who plays six sports and kicks puppies, though I think he really plays two and I'm making the puppy thing up." (35)

"Just because the TV's broke don't mean I don't know what's going on." (284)

I really like Superhero-type books.  Among my most recent reads were Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities (Jung, Mike. Arthur A Levine Books (Scholastic), 2012. 320p. $16.99. 9780545335485) and Sidekicks (Ferraiolo, Jack. Amulet Books (Abrams), 2011. 320p. $16.95. 9780810998032).  What I loved is how these books gave a different but still entertaining view of the genre. Much like Sidekicked does.  

I give it 4 stars because I was immediately engaged in Drew's inner turmoil: having to keep secrets from his family, not feeling normal unless he was his sidekick-self, falling for the girl that is his best friend. I also loved the twists and sense of humor that Anderson throws in. 

My only beef was the love triangle.  The jock vs the nerd. The girl chooses the jock. That brought it down from 5 stars for me. Otherwise, I really enjoyed it and highly recommend Sidekicked to middle school librarians and classroom teachers.

You can have your very own SIGNED hardcover copy of Sidekicked by John David Anderson!
Open to US Residents only. 13 and older. 
1 entry per person/email. 
Closes July 28, 2013, 11:59 pm. EST.
Winner announced August 1, 2013.

UPDATED: Won by J. Howard! Hope your classroom enjoys it as much as I did!

Find John David Anderson around the internets
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Ms. Yingling Reads - A Collection of H.E.R.O. Haiku

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cut It Out! The Art of Revising - John Anderson Guest Post - July 2013

Anderson, John. Sidekicked. Walden Pond Press (HarperCollinsChildren), 2013. 373p. 16.99. 978-0-06-213316-8.

Andrew "Drew" Bean is a Superhero Sidekick. Or he would be if his assigned Hero, Titan, wasn't too busy at the bar to meet with him. Or save him. Drew is tired of being saved by someone else's hero and decides to track the Titan down.

In addition, he's struggling with feelings for his longtime best friend, Jenna, who lately appears distant.

Too much uncertainty. Too much at stake. And now the dead returns. Argh! What's a Superhero Sidekick to do?

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Read below to Uncover a DELETED SCENE from Sidekicks!
Thanks for sharing, John Anderson!

Stephen King once said that "revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done." Personally I'm not sure it's ever that intense, but it's always a melancholy moment parting with passages you've toiled over in the interest of keeping the narrative clicking.
Looking back at the material that didn't make it into Sidekicked, and thankfully there wasn't that much, I'm struck by one moment in particular: a moment between Drew and his father where our protagonist is suddenly in danger of being "outed." It was cut because, plot wise, it added nothing. But it's nice to see Drew struggle with the secrets he’s keeping. This passage came after Drew skips school to find the Titan.
            That night my father comes into my room, which is unusual. For starters, my mother is always the envoy when it comes to parental intervention. Plus, I can always hear them whispering about me before she comes—setting their game plan, making sure they present a unified front before they tell me that I’m not allowed to stay out past 11:00, or that I need to cut down on my screen time. Add to this the fact that Dad’s pretty much the poster child for type B personality; he avoids confrontation like a Swedish diplomat. Our daily conversations generally follow one of four well-established scripts with only subtle variations in subject matter, so that, at times, talking with him is like filling in a Mad Lib.
            So I’m surprised to see him standing at my door. With a peace offering, no less.
            “Want a Coke?”
They are the actual bottles, not the cans. I didn’t even know they made Coke in bottles anymore. I wonder if he keeps them stored in some secret vault in the garage. I can't imagine either of my parents having any secrets.

He comes in and sits down at the foot of my bed. I wonder what I’ve done now. Is this really about playing hooky today? I thought maybe I had hugged that one out.

Or maybe somehow Mr. McClain looked a little too closely at my math test, comparing it to Natalie's, and called my parents, though I’m sure I would have picked up on that conversation as well.
            Then it dawns on me. Maybe this is it. With everything that has been going on, they’ve finally put it all together. Maybe this is the conversation that I’ve been dreading for over a year.
            Maybe they figured it out back with the pool incident and were just waiting for the right time to bring it up. Maybe that’s why she sent him: Because she can’t quite come to grips with the fact that her only child spends part of his day with a mask over his face and smoke grenades straddling his hips, learning how to defuse bombs and smelling his friend’s bottled farts. Another guy might understand all of that better. After all, I'm sure my father read all about superheroes when he was my age too.
            Or maybe they found the stuff in my closet—the ultrasonic emitters and the paralyzing darts—and they think I'm part of some kind of terrorist sleeper cell. I haven’t overheard any phone calls with the FBI, but what would you think if you found grenades in your teenager's closet? Suddenly a stash of dirty magazines doesn't sound so bad.
            Or maybe this is that conversation. The one that those advocacy groups beg your parents to have with you. And that’s why she sent Dad.
            God I hope it’s not that. I haven’t even been to second base yet (and I pretty much bunted my way onto first). Besides, isn’t that pretty much the a whole point of going to high school—which wasn't too far away, really—to learn all about that stuff so you didn't have to talk to your parents about it?
            My father hands me a Coke and I take a drink out of politeness. It tastes a little flat.
            “Son,” he says, looking at me with his head kind of cocked, his lips pressed together. Conversations that start with “Son” and are followed by a significant pause are always uncomfortable. I let the pause linger for a moment, filling in the blank myself.
Son…we just have to know--have you been captured by any supervillains lately?
            Son…your mother and I found these explosives in your closet. Care to explain how they got there?
Son…your mother and I think it’s time we told you about how you, you know, came into this world...
            “Did we do anything to...upset you?” he asks.
            “Huh?” There's a pretty long list of people who have upset me recently, some of them dressed as bumblebees, but my parents definitely aren't on it.
            “You’re mother and I—we just want to know if we’ve…done anything or said anything…to…I don’t know… make you angry…or anything.”
            Where is this coming from? I take another nervous sip. “Um…"
            “Anything that might make you think we don’t support you…or your decisions…”
My decisions? They do know. They must know. Or maybe not. Maybe they just think I'm gay. That would be a relief.
            “No. No….Nothing that I can think of.”
            “We understand that you're a teenager now, and you've got your friends, and your club, what is it again, the Help the Environment Regrow something?”
            “Highview Environmental Reclamation Organization,” I say automatically.
            “Right. That.”
            He’s bluffing. Has to be. He knows exactly what it stands for. There’s a superhero on the t-shirt, for godssake. Mr. Masters is going to be mad. I’ll probably get kicked out. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
            “It's hard. You're always staying after school for something,” Dad continues. “I’m always busy with my work, and Mom’s got her bake club, and her book club, and her classes that she takes…you know, with the clay.”
            “Ceramics,” I say. Last week she made another bowl, bigger than the first four. We keep apples in it.
            “Right. Ceramics. And so we aren’t always around when you need us…Or maybe it seems that way...”
            Like when I'm descending incrementally to my death, I think. Believe me, Dad, I think, that one is definitely not on you.
            “Oh…I guys are totally...always...right there...whenever..." I take another sip, hoping that serves as the end of the thought.
            “Well, I know it can be tough, you know, middle school, and then pretty soon high school, and, you know, girls…”
            I almost spit the soda back into the bottle. It is that conversation. I can't talk about birds and bees right now. I should head him off. Should tell him about the superhero thing. Change the subject. Or just show him the mask and the belt. Maybe he would be proud. His own son, a superhero sidekick in training. We could sit down and make a bomb together. And then we could avoid talking about girls. Or boys. Come to think of it, I have no idea what he's thinking.
            “No, let me finish. I know you are going through a lot right now. And you’re trying to figure out where you fit in and what your purpose is, and everything can seem so…you know…blaaaggghhh”
            He actually sticks out his tongue and makes a crazy face when he says this, throwing his hands up and shaking his head back and forth. I really wish he would have just used the word crazy, or hectic. Instead he says blaaaggghhh and acts like he's having a seizure. It’s always so awkward when parents try to relate to their kids.
            “Right. Blah,” I say, shaking my head a little.
            He pauses. His eyebrows are having an important meeting at the top of his nose. And I know, the longer this conversation goes on, the worse it will get. The pressure to tell him. To confide in him. He really is a good dad. I'm lucky to have him. Both of them. And yet I've been hiding the most important part of my life from them for over a year now.
            “Yes, Drew?” The eyebrows snap back into place. Meeting adjourned
            “Are you okay?”
            He smiles.
            “Yes. Of course. I’m fine. We are just worried, your mother and I. You've just seemed a little…off lately.”
He looks at me with those eyes so full of fatherly concern, both hands on his bottle. And I want to tell him, Yeah, okay, you got me. I have been a little off. See, there's this girl. And I'm a little worried about my Spanish grade. And I still feel guilty about cheating on this math test. And there are a couple of guys at school who give me a hard time. And maybe, just maybe, I'm just a little bit freaked out about nearly dying and stuff, and that some guy with a giant shovel is going to sneak into my bedroom and play home run derby with my head because my Super's too slammed to even know I exist, and at my funeral Jenna will wear too much Purple Passion and cry into Gavin McAlister's rock-hard shoulder, and there just doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. So yeah. I'm a little stressed right now.

“We just want you to know that we are here for you, any time you want to talk. If there is anything you want to tell us, anything at all, we will listen without judgment. Got it?”

And this is it. This is my chance. Tell him everything.
            “Got it,” I say.
            “Anything at all.” He looks at me, waiting.
            Just say something. “Got it, Dad.”
            “Because we’re here…if you need us.” Pause. Hold breath.
            Really. Honestly. Final opportunity. If there ever was a moment, Drew, this is the one. You can tell him.
            I can't tell him.
“Okay,” I say.
            Oh god, I hope he doesn’t hug me. If he hugs me I’ll lose it. 
            “Okay.” He puts his hands on his knees and pushes himself off the bed.
            “I’m glad we had this talk,” he says.
            “Me too, Dad.”
I have no idea what we just talked about.
            “Good. Okay. Well,” he checks his watch. “Only a few minutes until CSI. You wanna come watch? Still got homework to do?”
            “I’ve got some reading. And a history test on Friday.”
            “Okay. Well. We’ll just be downstairs if you need us.”
            He shuts my door and I let out another deep breath. Then my door opens suddenly opens and I suck it back in again.
            “I’m proud of you, son,” he says.
And then he’s gone. For real this time. I hear his footsteps on the stairs.

About the Author
John David Anderson is the author of Sidekicked and a father of two kids who he has decided will stop growing at the age of ten so that he can avoid awkward conversations like the one above. 

If you want to find out more, meander over to or check Facebook at JohnDavidAndersonAuthor.

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